Does Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity Suggest That There Is an Afterlife?: A Theoretical Physicist Explains

“Let’s talk about the physics of dead grand­moth­ers.” Thus does the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cist Sabine Hossen­felder start off the Big Think video above, which soon gets into Ein­stein’s the­o­ry of spe­cial rel­a­tiv­i­ty. The ques­tion of how Hossen­felder man­ages to con­nect the for­mer to the lat­ter should raise in any­one curios­i­ty enough to give these ten min­utes a watch, but she also address­es a cer­tain com­mon cat­e­go­ry of mis­con­cep­tion. It all began, she says, when a young man posed to her the fol­low­ing ques­tion: “A shaman told me that my grand­moth­er is still alive because of quan­tum mechan­ics. Is this right?”

Upon reflec­tion, Hossen­felder arrived at the con­clu­sion that “it’s not entire­ly wrong.” For decades now, “quan­tum mechan­ics” has been hauled out over and over again to pro­vide vague sup­port to a range of beliefs all along the spec­trum of plau­si­bil­i­ty. But in the dead-grand­moth­er case, at least, it’s not the applic­a­ble area of physics. “It’s actu­al­ly got some­thing to do with Ein­stein’s the­o­ry of spe­cial rel­a­tiv­i­ty,” she says. With that par­tic­u­lar achieve­ment, Ein­stein changed the way we think about space and time, prov­ing that “every­thing that you expe­ri­ence, every­thing that you see, you see as it was a tiny, lit­tle amount of time in the past. So how do you know that any­thing exists right now?”

In Ein­stein’s descrip­tion of phys­i­cal real­i­ty, “there is no unam­bigu­ous notion to define what hap­pens now; it depends on the observ­er.” And “if you fol­low this log­ic to its con­clu­sion, then the out­come is that every moment could be now for some­one. And that includes all moments in your past, and it also includes all moments in your future.” Ein­stein posits space and time as not two sep­a­rate con­cepts, but aspects of a sin­gle enti­ty called space­time, in which “the present moment has no fun­da­men­tal sig­nif­i­cance”; in the result­ing “block uni­verse,” past, present, and future coex­ist simul­ta­ne­ous­ly, and no infor­ma­tion is ever destroyed, just con­tin­u­al­ly rearranged.

“So if some­one you knew dies, then, of course, we all know that you can no longer com­mu­ni­cate with this per­son. That’s because the infor­ma­tion that made up their per­son­al­i­ty dis­pers­es into very sub­tle cor­re­la­tions in the remains of their body, which become entan­gled with all the par­ti­cles around them, and slow­ly, slow­ly, they spread into radi­a­tion that dis­pers­es through­out the solar sys­tem, and even­tu­al­ly, through­out the entire uni­verse.” But one day could bring “some cos­mic con­scious­ness­es which will also be spread out, and this infor­ma­tion will be acces­si­ble again” — in about a bil­lion years, any­way, which will at least give grand­ma’s reassem­bled intel­li­gence plen­ty to catch up on.

Relat­ed con­tent:

Is There Life After Death?: Michio Kaku, Bill Nye, Sam Har­ris & More Explore One of Life’s Biggest Ques­tions

Elie Wiesel (RIP) Talks About What Hap­pens When We Die

Is There an After­life? Christo­pher Hitchens Spec­u­lates in an Ani­mat­ed Video

Einstein’s The­o­ry of Rel­a­tiv­i­ty Explained in One of the Ear­li­est Sci­ence Films Ever Made (1923)

Is There Life After Death?: John Cleese and a Pan­el of Sci­en­tists Dis­cuss That Eter­nal Ques­tion

Albert Ein­stein On God: “Noth­ing More Than the Expres­sion and Prod­uct of Human Weak­ness”

Based in Seoul, Col­in Marshall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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Comments (26)
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  • Gene says:

    I read half of this sto­ry and said this is all BS and start­ed laugh­ing

  • Jay says:

    Part 2 should dis­cuss what Bernar­do Kas­trup’s pro­pos­al claims hap­pens after ones remains have scat­tered back into the uni­verse. It’s a nat­ur­al place to go giv­en Sabine’s men­tion of a hypo­thet­i­cal cos­mic con­scious­ness.

  • M Khan says:

    Google ” The Physics of the Day of Judg­ment ”

  • Rodney Kawecki says:

    Does Ein­steins the­o­ry reflect an after life is not illus­trat­ed beyond the past or the future. But Rod­ney Kawec­ki has reviewed Hub­ble Expan­sion or what he defines as Space Expan­sion and that ener­gy which refers to Recar­na­tion the­o­ry. It resolves the begin­ning of the uni­verse refer­ring to the big bang and a sad end which refers to recre­ation or uni­verse rebirth. Kaweck­i’s idea con­surd as it may seem is bound by the mate­r­i­al fact that mat­ter can not escape space. Where as a result mat­ter can change into ener­gy and ener­gy back into mat­ter which refers to an infi­nite imag­i­nary but finite rebirth cycle.
    Fur­ther­more, called ” The Quan­ta Physics The­o­ry” devel­oped since 1995, Kawec­ki rede­fines the con­ti­nu­ity of space in 3D scale uni­verse where galac­tic plan­e­tary mass is caught in 3D time­space. That pos­i­tive plan­e­tary mat­ter mass resis­tance in deep equi­lib­ri­um that reach­es 4D time­space to be expanse and dis­tance also based on Hub­ble Space.

  • Ck says:

    Mum­bo jum­bo

  • Name says:

    Why dis­count what you don’t under­stand?

  • S. Sadullah says:

    It is all not mum­bo jum­bo. The extent and prop­er­ties of space, the char­ac­ter and nature of time, the inter­weav­ing of space time are all extreme­ly dif­fi­cult con­cepts to ful­ly and tru­ly com­pre­hend, and so are brushed away as nonsense.…but they are not so. The nature of infor­ma­tion, entan­gle­ment, super­po­si­tion etc are all math­e­mat­i­cal oper­a­tors that exist through­out all space time and their com­bined actions cre­ate a con joint phe­nom­e­na of infor­ma­tion permeance…past, present and future.
    Do not dis­miss what you do not under­stand, and only accept what you do.

  • John Joe says:

    The ‘you do not under­stand’ is the ‘Fall­back Posi­tion’­for idiots who will believe in anything.Einstein was an Ape like the rest of us, who cre­at­ed as much dam­age with his Sci­en­tif­ic rav­ings, as he did good.He was born,lived and died like every­one and will stay dead! So let human beings get over them­selves and their Egoes.Get on with it!

  • Geo Golden2 says:

    Ein­stein stated,“Time and space are modes in which we think and not con­di­tions in which we live.”
    Why aren’t you under­stand­ing this?
    Because of “The Fall”,we find our­selves in an organ­ic sit­u­a­tion, due to dimen­sion­al changes. Even Chris­tians for the most part,don’t under­stand this.
    Eter­ni­ty, or the time­less is the greater real­i­ty and truth. Lea ing us in the sit­u­a­tion of, “The Matrix”.

  • Greg Z says:

    The expla­na­tion for the train ala­o­gy she gives here isn’t valid as the point where she says ‘your friend is look­ing straight ahead to see you’. There is no longer or short­er dis­tance, there is only the dis­tance. If the expla­na­tion does­n’t hold true for any por­tion„ then it does­n’t hold true for the rest of the expla­na­tion.

  • deralaand says:

    Have you viewed this site in chrome on an Android device? Every 45 sec­onds the page jumps a bit because an ad is either load­ing or reload­ing. This is more annoy­ing than just hav­ing ads in your face all the time.

  • Patti B says:

    Of course I do believe there’s life after death. If not in rein­car­na­tion, then some­where else out there is as humans don’t know as yet. After all, we’re souls hav­ing human expe­ri­ence 😊

  • Charles ward says:

    Lol I can’t believe you peo­ple. The uni­verse isn’t that com­pli­cat­ed. I can tell your what a pro­ton is, how it’s cre­at­ed and why it has spin. I can explain away the dou­ble slit and spooky action at a dis­tance conun­drums. Why the birth of the uni­verse exceed­ed the speed of light, what an elec­tron is and where it goes and what a field is and how mag­net­ism is and how it real­ly works and I’m not even a physi­cist. I can tell you why the uni­verse is expand­ing as well and how some­thing appears to come from noth­ing. Big clue “Par­ti­cals don’t exist.”
    Mean­while you peo­ple are still men­tal­ly mas­ter­bat­ing your­selves with made up fan­tasies. Look­ing for a uni­fied the­o­ry for a uni­verse that does­n’t exist. No one has nev­er proved Par­ti­cals exist. The fact is the truth is not allowed by the same peo­ple that are cur­rent­ly destroy­ing Amer­i­ca to ush­er in their glob­al­ism.

  • Harris says:

    space time is sin­gle dimen­sion start to end. We are at the very thin of time exists even just say thou­sands of years is equal to the very lit­tle amount of space time

  • Jeff says:

    I still can’t wrap my head around why time is includ­ed in physics. Time is rel­a­tive, but it still pass­es. From the big bang to now we count time as WE mea­sure it,in light years or hours. I obvi­ous­ly don’t know the math, but in my prac­ti­cal mind that’s how I see it. Some­one please try to fig­ure this out with­out time.

  • greg Pantos says:

    Life is nev­er-end­ing
    To die on earth is phys­i­cal
    Our con­science is in the quan­tum state.

  • Annoying says:

    Per­cep­tion of this infor­ma­tion is very nar­row. The infor­ma­tion we gath­er is most­ly at schools. They don’t teach exact­ly what Ein­stein said. Espe­cial­ly if it was researched and put into the syl­labus. There­fore under­stand­ing of what he means is 0. And you won’t under­stand, unless you study specif­i­cal­ly what he said and get why he said it. Spe­cial rel­a­tiv­i­ty has been encour­ag­ing peo­ple with­out believe in time. Time works dif­fer­ent­ly for oth­ers indi­vid­u­al­ly. When his exper­i­ments were put to tests, they did­n’t show full trust. Some may believe, he was using his ter­mi­nol­o­gy to mask his fail­ure dur­ing tests. Some may believe, because he worked in the patent com­pa­ny, he stole these ideas. And some may believe he was a great­est mind of all times, but who would he be with­out galileo or New­ton. I have just one thing to say, if there was no day and night cycle, what time you will go to sleep?

  • Matt says:

    Charles Ward please stop your non­sense blab­ber­ing. Your a genius in your own mind. So you have all the answers do you. lol. You know the answers to ques­tions the great­est minds in his­to­ry can’t answer. Typ­i­cal ego­tis­ti­cal nar­cis­sist. Lis­ten I don’t know if death is the end and nei­ther does any­one else. Peo­ple have opin­ions and beliefs but they don’t know. We die and after­ward no one knows for sure and if some­how con­scious­ness does go on after this life it like­ly does so in a man­ner where it does not remem­ber any­thing before so there­fore the answers like­ly remain unan­swered for eter­ni­ty. Truth is you don’t know so stop lying.

  • Paul Helleberg says:

    I have had many “gut feel­ings” of future expe­ri­ences that DID lat­er hap­pen.. but, one time I actu­al­ly had a video of future events flash in front of my eyes! Then 5 hours lat­er I saw again and expe­ri­enced exact­ly what I had seen ear­li­er in the evening .. my moth­er said “our life is like a c d and some­times they skip and we get a glimpse of the future.” Which means time is what..??

  • Robert says:

    There are mod­els which sug­gest that time should not be wrapped togeth­er with space in this way. The mod­el sug­gests that space burst out of time, which was already tak­ing place

  • Josh says:

    Spe­cial rel­a­tiv­i­ty describes objects at rel­a­tivis­tic speeds. You are an observ­er and can­not be viewed as a event, your end is the end. No after­life, just an uncar­ing and abysmal uni­verse that we call home.

  • Dusti says:

    John Joe is a beer swill­ing los­er who hasn’t done in his life what Ein­stein would do over lunch.

  • Jamal Hogchild says:

    Yeah, and the elec­tion was stolen too!!!!

  • Lucas says:

    You are wrong in many ways.

  • Tracy Bogdan says:

    I’m only going to say that the par­ti­cles are
    resid­ual mate­r­i­al from a pass­ing

  • Jeff j says:

    If sci­ence can’t prove an after­life, it can­not be dis­proven either. Maybe there isn’t, maybe there is. Keep your mind open.

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